I will not gab here for long, because the guest posts are for other voices. But I just wanted to say: hurrah! My very first Cheap Courage guest post. YOU COULD BE NEXT. Just drop me a line! And now without further ado… “Why I Fear Happiness”:
I could talk your ear off about Ireland.
My second semester my sophomore year in college, I lived in Cork for five months to study abroad. On a brisk January morning I found myself in a taxi with a man with an accent too thick to decipher, two red and white polka dot suitcases, and some scribbled instructions from my father on how to find my apartment. I knew no one and tried to wear a confident, albeit terrified and tired, smile as I entered the worst apartment I’d ever live in.
What followed was five months that, as every cliche about studying abroad goes, “changed me forever.” I stumbled between pubs and classes, fell in love for the first time, traveled 8 countries over 30 days with my roommates, and found I was a person I actually quite enjoyed. My anxiety stayed at bay and my depression never seemed to take hold while overseas.
It was every montage sequence you find in a grainy sepia-toned coming of age film about 20-somethings trying to find their way. It was chaotic and hard and therapeutic and exhaustingly beautiful. When I got back to the states though, it took me years to find that person again and more or less, I never recaptured that frenzied happiness I had once felt.
Three weeks ago, my husband Luke and I boarded a plane headed to Ireland for our honeymoon. Us picking Ireland as a honeymoon destination was a decision made on a lucky find with a cheap airline back in March. It wasn’t until we took the train from Dublin down to Cork and taxied through the city that it started to feel real.
The next few days, next to the day I married Luke, were the happiest I’ve ever been. My cheeks frequently hurt from smiling too much and my slight Irish accent came back within days. Unlike my college town, the city of Cork hadn’t changed in the nearly six years since I had lived there. The hot chocolate shop still stood, as popular with locals as ever, and the famous chipper was still serving bags of greasy chips. The pub I used to frequent still had the same white daisy painted over the blue exterior. Even the table configurations inside were the same.
We took trains around the county of Cork and on our last day ventured out to Doolin to hike the Cliffs of Moher. While I had lived in Ireland, I joined a mountaineering club (mainly to meet Irish men but that’s beside the point) and seeing the Irish cliff sides again brought everything back. It brought me back. I was 20 again and confused but also deliriously happy about the freedom that being away from home can only give you.
But I wasn’t back. I stood on a mossy tuft of grass and looked out over the sea. We had taken a picture together moments before and when I looked at it, I could see my forehead wrinkles. I had smile lines. My hair was longer but slightly less thick. I also was thinner but different.
This was different.
I was now 25 and married. I lived just beyond the city limits of Chicago with Luke and our aging dog who didn’t quite understand she was aging. I had a stable job. I was happy.
I’m not a fan of happiness. It’s weird to see that written out but it’s honest. Happiness is fleeting, it’s inconsistent, it’s never permanent. It’s a hope, not a promise. When you finally start to feel happy, that’s when you should be afraid because now you have something tangible to lose. I didn’t realize how happy I was in my life until I stood in the October air of County Clare but now I’m do. And now I’m afraid.
Most of my life I’ve been unhappy. I don’t know if most people would gather that as words are easy enough to hide behind. I talk about myself in vague, self-deprecating ways so no one delves deeper. I talk constantly about anything and everything so people don’t question me for fear that I’ll never stop talking. I can remember two concrete times in my life I could call happy: those winter and spring months of 2011 and the past couple years.
I don’t know what to do with happy. It feels like something palpable I should be able to hold tightly. I remember my flight home from Ireland back when I was 20 and how scared I was. It was like emerging from this contained segment of my life and desperately wanting to hold onto who I had found. What I had found. I had figured it all out and nothing would ever be bad again. I remember crying the second the wheels touched down in Milwaukee. The pressure behind my head built and I was nauseous. Somehow, I felt I had to let go. In the coming months I’d fake my way back into sorority life and be more miserable than I’d been in years.
Recognizing happiness is like when you’re in a horror movie and thinking about the monster is what makes it more powerful. If I recognize I’m happy and draw attention to it, that’s what will be the end, or so my brain keeps telling me.
When the plane touched down in Toronto from Dublin, Luke and I scrambled through the airport, desperately trying to get through customs as fast as possible during our short 1 and a half hour layover. We made it just in time to our plane to Chicago. We laughed the way you do when you’re tired but also relieved. He squeezed my hand and kissed my sweaty forehead. As the plane took off and we headed back to Chicago, I reached out and grabbed a hold of his thigh.
This time when we landed back home, I didn’t want to let go.
Molly Sisson, 25, graduated in 2013 from University of Iowa with a BA in English and a focus in Creative Writing. She attended University College Cork for a semester in the spring of 2011. Following college, she fell into a career in finance and currently resides in Oak Park, IL with her husband, Luke, and their overly energetic dog, Lucy. She spends most of her free time reading listicles, binging entire series on Netflix, and eating lots of macarons. She sporadically posts blog entries on her blog: http://awriterswordvomit.blogspot.com/.